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    Why can’t we all just argue?

    Here’s a question for people: Which of the following is the more important to you?

    1. living by your principles
    2. making other people like you

    Because the thing is, they’re both worthy goals, but you can’t prioritize them equally all the time. You can and should listen to others without assuming you already know what they’re going to say. You can and should resist the temptation to put words in their mouths just because you heard them from the last few proselytizing [conservatives/liberals/heteros/homos/Atkins dieters/Steely Dan fans] you got into a tussle with. You can and should avoid second-guessing people’s motivations and spinning out speculative narratives about their inner emotional lives (a pet peeve of mine, that). All of which is to say, you can and should be civil.

    But that doesn’t mean making nice at all costs. Something Camille Paglia wrote a decade ago in her “No Law in the Arena” essay impressed me greatly when I first read it, even though it clearly wasn’t intended as one of her trademark rampaging-diva climaxes. She was talking about rape activism specifically, but her point has wider applications:

    What I call Betty Crocker feminism–a naively optimistic Pollyannaish or Panglossian view of reality–is behind much of this. Even the most morbid of the rape ranters have a childlike faith in the perfectibility of the universe, which they see as blighted solely by nasty men. They simplistically project outward onto a mythical “patriarchy” their own inner conflicts and moral ambiguities.

    It’s hard to have a discussion with people whose view of reality starts with the fallacy that people naturally get along swimmingly, and that therefore whatever friction arises is only there because you–you evil [liberal/conservative/homo/hetero/carb consumer/only-owns-Gaucho-er]–artificially brought it in from an alien realm. Living, breathing people in a free society have deeply-held beliefs that are at loggerheads with other people’s deeply-held beliefs. People also have internal conflicts that are hard to resolve. That doesn’t make human empathy or the impulse toward kindness less real; it just means that it’s not the only force we need to factor in when discussing our interests.

    It also means that we have to deal with people on their own terms. No one’s personality comes with a line-item veto. I don’t see why LaShawn Barber should not write what she thinks about homosexuality in order to get a rep as the nice black female conservative any more than I plan to stop being a flaming homo in order to get more social conservatives to pay attention to what I’m saying about Japan-US relations. People who only like some aspects of a given blog are free to skip the posts they don’t feel edified by; if the stuff they object too carries sufficient weight with them, they can decide the rest of the blog isn’t worth it and skip the whole thing. People who freak the hell out at the possibility that they might applaud 80% of what a blogger writes and be outraged at the other 20% should probably skip reading blogs altogether and take up PlayStation. Those who are secure in their identities and convictions don’t shrink from criticizing that which they believe reprehensible (or plain inaccurate), but they don’t have a nervous breakdown over its very existence.

    Open conflict is a part of life in democratic societies, and it has the advantage of sifting out and sharpening the best among competing ideas as well as the disadvantage of making life less harmonious. (See also Eric and Grand Stander) The alternative is rule by the collective, in which you the individual are peremptorily informed which tradeoffs will make you happy and then expected to live with them. The tendency of people from such societies to scramble aboard the nearest boat to America the minute they get the chance should indicate how attractive that option really is. In a classical-liberal society, we can’t stop people from trying to impose their estimation of our dignity and worth on us–sometimes loudly and publicly–but we’re not obliged to go along with it. Are there really people who don’t think that’s worth the compromise?

    Don’t answer that.

    4 Responses to “Why can’t we all just argue?”

    1. (Following my internal anarchy, wherever it leads)

      From the Grand Stand has an excellent, thoughtful post on groupthink versus true individuality:once you remove all the external cosmetics, the adornments and affectations, what you’re left with is what’s inside

    2. Alan says:

      Not to derail or anything, but- Speaking of Camille Paglia, I’m interested in getting into her, but I’m unsure of where to start. I am looking at Sexual Personae. Any thoughts?

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      Derailing into Camille is almost always worthwhile, honeychile.

      I normally don’t recommend the short and easy thing over the long and hard thing, especially when it means screwing up chronology, but in this case I think it makes sense. I’d begin, that is to say, with Sex, Art, and American Culture .

      There are a couple of reasons. One is that that book contains the preface to Sexual Personae as Paglia originally intended it to appear; the way shorter version that actually appeared in Sexual Personae doesn’t really adequately prepare you for the maelstrom you’re about to be plunged into. Also, some of the other long pieces–her notes from one of her arts classes, the “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders” book review, and the transcript of her lecture at MIT–are a good setup for her overall mindset. In fact, I’d read those before skipping toward the front of the book for the reprints of shorter book reviews and op-ed columns. They’re all good, but they’d probably be kind of disjointed and confusing as a starting point.

      It’s from there that I’d recommend Sexual Personae. Beyond that, you’ll want to read “No Law in the Arena” from Vamps and Tramps, but by 1994 Paglia’s media-celebritihood was at its peak, and you can see from other stuff in the book that she was getting soused on it. You may find a lot of it skippable, though you’ll be eating it all up if you’re a convert by then.


    4. Alan says:

      Good stuff, thanks.

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